Can you successfully mix procedural with action in a British crime novel?

Is the question i'm asking myself at the moment.  I've been writing crime novels since i left the police a few years ago, and despite a firm grasp of all the procedural bits and bobs necessary to make the plot seem real, i have to confess that i get a little bored if there isn't some adrenaline pumping action going on.


The issue is that police generally aren't armed over here.  We have armed units, sure, but in the main you trudge around with a stick and some pepper spray and end up brawling with people, which is all well and good but it doesn't have the nail biting tension invoked when firearms come out to play.


So my latest novel has gone from a standard murder investigation and turned into a high octane car chase/firefight/take down the bad guys scenario, and i'm wondering if it works with British crime.  Maybe i should start writing crime novels based in the states where things like that are a tad more likely to happen, or stick to writing action thrillers and leave the crime.


What do you think?

Views: 62

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Martha Grimes' first Inspector Jury novel, "The Man with a Load of Mischief," ended with the criminal armed with a pistol and the detective with a slingshot. It seems to me that the lack of a firearm for the good guy would add to the nail-biting tension, not detract from it, especially as there seems to be a resurgence underway among U.K. gun clubs, meaning the potential bad guys.


Interesting point.  I quite often have my bad guys being armed with knives and other unsavoury weapons while my officers only have baton and spray (which they usually leave at the Nick), which often works, but this time i decided to go guns and glory.  As well as the gun club resurgence, there are an awful lot of weapons being brought back from Afghanistan on military flights and then sold as souvenirs, but are then being reactivated and put back into service in the criminal underworld.  Chilling thought.

And definitely a good plot for a mystery or thriller. Pity the hero who comes up against military hardware armed with baton and spray. Getting him or her out of that situation would be a serious page turner.


I had what i thought was a good and well-reasoned response ready to go, but Gunnar has beat me to it, and done it better. What he said.
I've been watching a fair number of BBC series lately; A Touch of Frost, Inspector Lewis, etc. and the pace is considerably slower than US series. But when I saw the recent Sherlock Holmes series, set in current times, I thought they balanced procedures interspersed with action. You might check it out....
Actually, in the Frost novels, the pace is very fast, but mainly because there so many cases and a constant sense of urgency. Frost rarely sleeps.
I saw it, and that's a very good point.  Even Watson did some naughty shooting action, so that's a precedent i hadn't thought of, thanks!
Other British authors have done so(set their novels in the U.S.), i.e. Lee Child.  For me, the British setting works better, but I'm an Anglophile living in the U.S. and I want something more than physical action.  Still, if you're aiming at male readers, you may do better with car chases and bombs (they do have those in the UK, right?) and gun fights.  And that reminds me that Lee Child has quite a female following, but that is entirely due to Reacher, who is the sort of man who turns on women because he's so bad for them. 

I have set a series of novels in the US, but unfortunately they haven't been picked up yet so there's no point writing more of the series until one hits.  They're based around an ex army Brit, similar in vein to Matt Hilton's Joe Hunter series, but slightly more mercenary and definitely not as northern.  It's much easier as a Brit myself to write about the states and have the action seem realistic.  I suppose you have an artistic license with another country that maybe you don't feel you can justify with your own as you know it so well.


I might try another one in the US and make it more crime orientated, but i'm fairly satisfied that my British crime stuff has enough procedural investigation and action, i'm just not sure the mix is entirely appropriate...

I think that this is maybe where having been a cop over here and trying to write about it falls down.  Policing in the UK can actually be incredibly violent, there's just a lack of guns.  The traditional sleuth story is very unlike real policing, so i think that maybe i'm suffering from trying to put too much reality into my stories.


It's interesting though, as your point about the intellectual side of the genre is a well made one.  Perhaps putting too much action in is challenging the boundaries of the genre in the wrong way, and action and intellectual crime should be kept apart.  I can't quite make my mind up on this one.



Interesting exchange of ideas here! Popular America media is very fast paced these days. Whether it's action, tension, or violence maybe the important thing is to keep the story moving forward. No reason there can't be a lot depth in the procedure or in reflection as long it leads to escalation.


Your point about too much realism struck a nerve with me as well. I've watched several cops TV shows and I'm always amazed at how spontaneous many of the crimes are. People making bad decisions in the face of sudden "opportunities." I have no experience in real crime enforcement, but it seems to me most criminals in fiction are more interesting and clever than those in real life.

With a few exceptions (they tend to be British shows), crime and detective shows on TV are really simple and superficial.

Depth in the procedure?  You mean in the investigation?  I look for depth in the characters.


CrimeSpace Google Search

© 2024   Created by Daniel Hatadi.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service